Black prisoner in Quebec hopes for criminal investigation of prison guards

Click to play video: 'Black prisoner in Quebec hopes for criminal investigation of prison guards'
Black prisoner in Quebec hopes for criminal investigation of prison guards
WATCH: A Black man being held in a Quebec prison is seeking justice for an incident in which he claims prison guards assaulted him. It happened while he was serving time in a penitentiary in Kingston, Ont. As Global’s Amanda Jelowicki reports he has video of the alleged assault and says it proves that about a dozen officers should be charged – Jun 4, 2021

A convicted criminal wants the Ontario Provincial Police to open an investigation into an alleged assault he claims he suffered at the hands of Corrections Canada guards while he was in prison.

Christophe Lewis was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 for second-degree murder in Toronto.

In 2012, he was transferred to the Millhaven Institution in Kingston, Ont. He says when he arrived, a female prison guard told him to undress because she had to conduct a strip search of him. He asked for a male guard instead.

He says many guards entered the room and started arguing with him. Video surveillance footage of the incident shows Lewis standing several feet from about a dozen guards when one pepper sprays him. The video has no sound. Lewis was then tackled by several guards, and placed in a chokehold, a physical move disallowed by CSC in 1999.

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Lewis is currently serving the end of his sentence at a federal penitentiary in Laval, Que. His legal team is based in Montreal.

He says he continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress and nightmares after the incident.

“The attack on me was unprovoked and vicious,” he said. “Ever since the assault I experienced in November 2012, I suffer from nightmares and major post traumatic experiences.”

He says he lodged many prison grievances over the years about what happened. His legal team says there are failures in the way officials handle prisoner complaints and grievances.

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Soon after the assault, Lewis filed a complaint with the Office of the Correctional Investigator, Anne Kelley, who was Senior Deputy Commissioner of Correctional Services Canada (CSC) at the time — she is now Commissioner of CSC. Kelly ultimately upheld Lewis’s grievance but judged that no corrective action against the guards was required.

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After seven years of requests, Lewis and his legal team obtained a copy of the video surveillance footage of the incident. Lewis now wants justice for what happened to him, and wants the guards held accountable.

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“When you see the sheer brutality he experienced, the heartlessness of him being treated clearly less than human, it’s impossible not to be shocked by it,” said Ted Rutland from the Anti-Carceral Group which has been helping Lewis.

The legal team has presented the video to the Ontario Provincial Police, asking them to open a criminal investigation into the guards’ actions.

“Obtaining video footage could lead to the start of change, and we hope in the case of Mr. Lewis this is what will happen,” said Lewis’ lawyer Sylvie Bordelais.

Prisoners advocates say it took courage for Lewis to speak out, since guards can mistreat people who complain.

“Partly as a result of this, he faces a lot of harassment and the denial of rights, meals, phone calls etc., transfers between prisons, in response to him demonstrating he knows what his rights are,” Rutland said. “Part of the reason it’s happening now is he has reached the breaking point. He can’t accept things keep happening and he has the courage to take this step knowing it could make the situation worse.”

“I understand I may be subjected to backlash and further inhumane treatment for releasing these facts but enough is enough,” added Lewis.

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Critics say it’s yet another example of abuse of Black men in prison.

“This is not an institution that is invested in healing or rehabilitation in any way,” said Rajean Hoilett from the Toronto Prisoner Rights Project. “Instead it’s a place where Black and Indigenous people are sent to be tortured, to be maimed, to be assaulted.”

The OPP told Global News they couldn’t comment on the case, and provided the following written statement: “We have been made aware of the allegations and are in the preliminary stages of reviewing the material that has been provided. The OPP cannot comment on details of this matter or whether an investigation will be initiated.”

Global News reached out to Canada Corrections for comment on the matter but did not hear back by deadline.

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